Palliative care is a type of health care for patients and families facing life-threatening illness. The services help patients achieve the best possible quality of life right up until the end of life. Palliative care is also called end-of-life, or comfort care (via virtualhospice.com).
Palliative care includes the following:
- Reducing the symptoms of breast cancer and the side effects of treatment
- Managing pain
- Addressing emotional, psychological and spiritual needs
- Enjoying and enhancing relationships with friends and family
- Supporting the patient in living as actively and fully as possible
- Supporting caregivers
- Preparing for the end of life
Palliative care does not necessarily end when your love one passes away. Many hospice palliative care centres offer bereavement programs for the friends and family of the patient following their death. They may need help with managing strain and stress, and an additional support system as they grieve.
Palliative Care Frequently Asked Questions (FAQs)
Are palliative care and hospice the same thing? In Canada, the two terms are the same thing. Some people refer to hospices as centres in their community in comparison to a centre inside a hospital.
Who benefits from palliative care? Family, friends and the individual who has a life-threatening illness will benefit from palliative care. The end-of-life is difficult – these centres try to make it as easy on the individual and support system as possible.
What is involved in palliative care? Palliative care aims to (via npc.org.uk):
- Affirm life and regard dying as a normal process
- Provide relief from pain and other distressing symptoms
- Integrates the psychological and spiritual aspects of patient care
- Offer a support system to help patients live as actively as possible until death
- Offer a support system to help the family cope during the patient’s illness and in their own bereavement
Who provides palliative care? Who is on the palliative care team is determined by the needs of the patients and his or her family. The team often includes nurses with specialized palliative care skills, the person’s family physician, a physician specialized in palliative care, a social worker, a spiritual counsellor, and a pharmacist.
Where can people receive palliative care? People can receive palliative care (via chpca.net):
- At home. Palliative care is often provided at people’s homes through home care programs. These programs provide professional nursing care a variety of other services. Other services may include volunteer services, day programs offered for the ill family member in their community, pain and symptom management teams and 24-hour emergency response teams.
- Hospitals. Some hospitals have palliative care units with a palliative care team made up of health professionals who specialize in palliative care – some hospitals will set aside beds in different units of the hospital for people who are in need of palliative care.
- Long-term care facilities. Palliative care services may also be offered in long-term care facilities such as nursing homes. It is sometimes necessary for residents who need more specialized palliative care services to enter a hospital. Long-term care facilities are less likely than hospitals to have specialized palliative care units
- Hospices. In Canada, there are only a few residential hospices-separate buildings or apartments where palliative care is provided in a home-like setting. Some people move into hospices to receive palliative care on a 24-hour basis.
Who pays for palliative care? If you chose to receive palliative care in a hospital, it is likely to be funded by the provincial health plan. These plans usually include cost of drugs, medical supplies and equipment while the person is in the hospital.
If the patient will be using at-home palliative care services, it may be paid for by the provincial health plan as part of a home care program. These plans do not always include the cost of drugs and equipment used at home. Some plans allow only a certain number of paid hours of professional and home support services. After the hours are used up, people need to look for other ways to pay for these services.
Bereavement support is generally cost-free. It is important that people requiring palliative care and their families find out as soon as possible who pays for what and what additional financial assistance may be available.
Gaps in palliative care
There are gaps in palliative care across the country.
Indicators such as location of death, use of acute care before death and referrals to formal palliative care show that there is significant room for improvement. Many Canadians who require palliative care receive it in acute and emergency care, if they receive it at all. About 45%of cancer patients die in acute care hospitals even though most Canadians prefer to die at home. Not only are acute care settings more costly than dedicated palliative care, they are also not as equipped to provide the most appropriate care to palliative care patients and their families.
(Canadian Cancer Society, 2016)
- The Bow Tie Model of 21st Century Palliative Care (Canadian Virtual Hospice, 2019)
- PDF: Key message document from the Quality End-of-Life Care Coalition of Canada (QELCCC, June 2018)
- PDF: Right to Care: Palliative care for all Canadians (Canadian Cancer Society, 2016)